12 June 2009

Rabbit in a cherry & red wine sauce

It's cherry season in the Loire Valley. Or it's at least the season for sour cherries, called cerises acides in French. Sour cherries are not the sweet kind you eat raw and plain, but the ones that are good for making jam, cakes and clafoutis, and sauces. Sweet cherries ripen a little later.

A couple of years ago we had a big cherry crop around Saint-Aignan. At the time, I made a cherry sauce that I served with duck legs that had been slow-cooked in duck fat — confit de canard. I posted about it here and in a couple of blog posts in the days before that one (May and June 2007).

Sour cherries on the tree

This year I had the idea that rabbit cooked in a cherry sauce might be good, so I looked up recipes on the Internet. I found several of them. The one that caught my eye was rabbit cooked in red wine with cherries. But there was also one for rabbit cooked with cherries and white wine. I kind of took what I considered to be the best elements of the two recipes and made my own version.

As an appetizer, we had céleri rémoulade with black olives

You could certainly make the same thing using chicken instead of rabbit. But you need to find some sour cherries.

Here is my recipe in English, based on two recipes in French:
Rabbit with sour cherries and red wine

1 rabbit (2 to 3 lbs.), cut into 6 or 7 pieces
1 large onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, crushed or pressed
1 herb bouquet (thyme, rosemary, parsley, bay leaf)
6 oz. pork
lardons (diced bacon)
½ bottle red wine (1½ cups)
a pinch of celery seed
3 allspice berries
salt and pepper
1 lb. of sour cherries, de-stemmed and pitted
1 Tbsp. red-currant jelly

Sauté the chopped onion, crushed garlic, and diced bacon with the rabbit (or chicken) pieces in a big pan so that everything starts to take on a golden brown color. You can use butter, oil, or a combination in the frying pan.
One rabbit, cut up. The liver and kidneys are good to eat too.
When it's browned, pour on the red wine. Add the herbs, spices, and salt and pepper to the pan along with enough water so that the rabbit or chicken pieces are just barely covered by liquid. Let the pan simmer on low heat for 45 minutes.

Finally, add the cherries to the pan along with the jelly. Stir the cherries into the sauce and leave the pan on the heat to simmer for another 10 to 15 minutes.

Notes: You could use 2 to 3 lbs. of chicken pieces instead of rabbit. The bacon is optional but does give good flavor. Instead of allspice berries, you could use a pinch of ground allspice, cinnamon, or nutmeg (or a combination). Instead of celery seed, you could add a stalk of celery to the sauce. And instead of red-currant jelly, you could use apple, grape, or other jelly, or you could use a teaspoon of sugar and a teaspoon of vinegar.
Rabbit with cherries and red wine

Voilà. The sour cherries give a lemony tartness to the sauce, and the red wine gives it a nice red color. The rabbit or chicken pieces take on a reddish color but the meat is very white when you cut into it. Serve it with pasta or boiled potatoes, and green salad.

I had picked a big bucket of cherries yesterday morning, and when I weighed them I had more than 4 lbs. (2 kg). I obviously had a lot more than I needed for the rabbit recipe. Walt made a clafoutis with about half of what remained, and then I put the other half up in eau-de-vie (clear fruit brandy).

Clafoutis aux cerises

Putting cherries in brandy is a quick and easy way to preserve them. You need to sterilize the jar or jars you use first — plunge them into boiling water, along with their lids, for a few minutes. Take them out with tongs and don't touch them with your fingers. Fill the jars with washed, raw cherries whose stems you've cut down to about an inch long. Pour sugar syrup to fill the jar about one-quarter of the way and then fill it with brandy.

Two jars of cerises à l'eau-de-vie — cherries in clear fruit brandy

In France, you can buy clear fruit brandy for this purpose in the supermarkets. I paid 10 euros for a liter of brandy, and I used about half of it to make two big jars of preserved cherries. They'll be ready to eat in about three months. And the sweetened brandy will be good to sip, too.


  1. OK - got to check our little tree to see if I've got enough cherries left(cerises de montmorency, in case someone wants to try to find them at the market, but I haven't seen them commercially sold for years). If so, then we've got a meal for tomorrow when the kids come over.

  2. I remember those "cerises aigres" very well. Not good to eat off the tree but so delicious cooked with "pintade" (guinea-fowl?) or just eating them without the eau-de-vie. Delicious! This blog always brings back a lot of memory.

  3. Sallyann Harris13 June, 2009 17:30

    You might try making a risotto with the cherries. I had one such in Como, Italy and it was delicious served with a mild fish.

  4. Do sweet cherries work with brandy too, or just the sour ones?

  5. oh my oh my... everything looked great!

  6. I've just stumbled across your charming blog.
    Been researching preserving cherries and loved the rabbit with cherries. Big fan of meat with seasonal fruit.

    Am going to add some eau de vie to my cherries!


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